Most endurance athletes (at least those of us in the Northeast) will likely have some off-season time over the next few months – unless of course you’re training for a winter or early spring marathon, or a destination race. But no matter what time of year you take your off-season, a few helpful nutrition tips can maximize the benefits of that time and ensure you start your next training season refreshed, healthy, and in good shape.
1. Cut back on calories and carbs.
When you’re in the peak of training, your body needs those extra calories – most in the form of carbohydrates – to supply your muscles with energy. However, in the off-season, your training load is greatly reduced. You may be cutting back on the intensity or length of your workouts, you may take time off completely for a few weeks, or you may try other activities that you don’t normally have time for. Any way you look at it though, your overall calorie burn is likely much less than in-season, which means you need to eat fewer calories to avoid weight gain.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a runner and you’re putting in about 40-50 miles per week in your training season. For a 150 pound person, that’s somewhere in the range of 4000-5000 calories burned each week through running. If that person cuts down to 20 miles per week in the off-season (about 2000 calories burned), they’ll need 2000-3000 fewer calories from food each week – or about 300-400 less each day.
2. Eat cleaner.
During the training season, you may rely on some engineered sports products (like bars or shakes) to help meet your nutritional needs – and that’s fine because that’s when your body may need that! But during the off-season, try cutting back on those and focusing on eating cleaner with whole foods. Avoid foods that have a laundry list of ingredients and additives. Instead, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
3. Work on weight loss if needed.
If you’re an overweight athlete and are concerned about the impact your weight is having on your health/performance, the off-season is a great time to try to work on weight loss. During training, the level and intensity of activity can increase your appetite significantly, and it can be quite difficult to meet your fueling needs for maximum performance while trying to lose weight at the same time. In the off-season, though, the lighter training volume means a smaller effect on appetite, and you don’t have to worry as much about the impact of under-fueling on your training sessions.
Try keeping a food journal (either pen and paper, or online) and see what your current habits are – and then aim to make a few small changes each week to cut back on calories to support weight loss. For example, maybe in the first week you cut your portions of grains at dinner. Maybe in the 2nd week, you only have one glass of wine instead of two each night. You get the idea. Think about what your personal challenges are and work on those.
4. Get some blood work done.
Several athlete groups may struggle meeting certain vitamin and mineral needs. For example, African American athletes – especially those who are vegan – may fall short in Vitamin D. Young female athletes may need additional iron. With a busy training schedule, setting aside time to see a doctor can feel overwhelming. But with more flexibility and free-time in the off-season, it can be easier to find a day to stop by your MD. Get quick round of blood work done to check for deficiencies. You may need to start adding certain foods to your diet or taking a supplement – and it’s much easier to focus on implementing these changes now rather than later.
You may have come across some articles online or in popular training magazines recently talking about tart cherry juice for athletes. It’s been promoted to help with muscular damage and recovery after both endurance and strength exercises. But does the product live up to the hype?
The short answer is yes, it can help with muscle pain and recovery – but there is an important factor to consider before going crazy for cherries.
But first, let’s look at the research. There is actually very little research that has been done in peer-reviewed journals on tart cherry juice (in this realm – there’s some other research on sleep and whatnot). In fact, I really only found three studies relevant to athletes.
The most interesting study – in my opinion, since I love running – was on tart cherry juice and pain after running
. The study looked at 54 runners who were competing in a team-based 24 hour relay. Twice a day for a week before the event, runners drank either a tart cherry juice or a placebo cherry juice. The research was double blinded, so the runners and the investigators looking at endpoint data did not know who was getting which drink.
The results? Runners who drank the tart cherry juice experienced less pain post-race compared to the placebo group. This is pretty cool, since we don’t want athletes taking tons of NSAIDS or pain relievers, which carry some risks. For example, runners who take NSAIDS before or during a race to prevent later pain have an increased risk of hyponatremia, a potentially serious drop in blood sodium levels. Another study looking at runners
found that 48 hours post marathon, those who drank tart cherry juice before and after the event had reduced inflammatory markers and better return of strength indices (though no difference in muscle soreness).
I found one other study that focused on strength training
, and used a similar regimen of 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for 8 days and compared it to a placebo. This study focused on strength loss after a session of intensive eccentric strength exercises. There was less loss of strength over a four day period among the group that drank cherry juice compared to the group who drank the placebo – a 4% versus a 22% decline.
Some pretty awesome research, right? Now here’s where that important consideration comes in.
In the relay running study and the strength study, the participants drank two 12 ounce servings of cherry juice per day (unfortunately, I don’t have access to the full study on marathon running, so I’m not sure the amount consumed in that example). Most commercial cherry juices are around 130 calories per 8 ounces. That means those athletes were taking in almost 400 calories per day from tart cherry juice!
That’s a pretty significant amount of calories, and if you took in that much every day without changing your diet, you’d be looking at about 3 pounds gained in a month. The bottom line?
Yes, tart cherry juice may help reduce pain after long runs or intense strength training sessions. But the benefit comes from drinking the beverage consistently leading up to that training session or event. With the standard amount of juice used in research clocking in at about 400 calories per day, it’s something to consider carefully. It’s unknown right now if smaller amounts of tart cherry juice will provide any benefit.
If you are an athlete that struggles consistently with muscle pain and soreness, I think it could be worthwhile to try leading up to your next long/intense workout. Just be sure to balance the rest of your dietary intake to prevent gaining weight if that’s a concern. Substituting out some other less nutritious items and drinking tart cherry juice instead would be a good plan. Share with us – have you used tart cherry juice? What were your experiences?
With many athletes considering different eating styles to support health, vegan and vegetarian lifestyles have become more popular in the last 20 years. Choosing this type of diet can certainly be beneficial to overall health and reduced chronic disease risk when structured properly. However it can make it more challenging - but certainly not impossible - to meet certain nutrient needs among athletes.
I felt inspired to write a blog post on this after hearing an excellent presentation on this topic by Roberta Anding, the sports dietitian for the Houston Texans, at the conference I went to a few weeks ago. So a big thanks to her for some of the information discussed here!
What’s the difference?
Though some may use the terms interchangeably, there are differences between a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle:
Nutrition tips:1) Protein is essential
- Vegan: Does not consume any animal products.
- Lactovegetarian: Does not consume meat, fish, or eggs but does consume dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Does not consume meat or fish, but does consume eggs and dairy products.
for both endurance athletes and strength training athletes, with the specific recommendations based on your training regimen and weight. Most vegan and vegetarian athletes do well meeting their carbohydrate needs, since grains, vegetables, and fruits are good sources of carbohydrates. Meeting protein needs requires a bit more planning. Be sure to include plant-based sources of protein at each meal
, including tofu, beans, soy milk, protein-fortified almond milk, nuts, seeds, and quinoa, all of which are vegan/vegetarian friendly. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can also incorporate dairy and eggs as a protein source.2) If you decide to use a protein supplement, choose wisely
. The most common protein supplements are made from whey, which comes from dairy - so it’s generally appropriate for vegetarians but not vegans. However, some whey proteins are made using calf rennet as an enzyme, so if you are a vegetarian concerned about that you’ll need to check the label (not all use this). There are vegan protein powders on the market that are produced from soy, hemp, rice, pea, or other plant-based proteins. Keep in mind that if you are a competitive athlete that goes through drug testing, or are in the military, there are some concerns about using hemp since there is a very slim chance it may cause a false positive on a drug test. While unlikely, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry and use a different source of plant protein.3) Leucine is particularly important for muscular recovery
and protein synthesis after workouts (see a blog post from a while back on this topic here
). Dairy is one of the biggest sources of leucine in our diets, so vegetarian athletes can meet their needs a bit easier than vegans. Vegan athletes need to rely on other sources. Soy, nuts, and wheat germ are some of the better sources of leucine for vegans.4) Vitamin D may be a concern for vegan athletes
, particularly those who are not Caucasian (darker skin reduces Vitamin D production from sunlight in the skin). Consider getting your Vitamin D levels checked and if needed add a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen. Vitamin D2 is an acceptable vegan dietary supplement, and you might consider supplementing between 1000 to 2000 IU per day – potentially more for low current blood levels or for African American athletes.5) Vegetarian and vegan athletes may also fall short in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA
, since fish is not eaten. While flax and chia seeds are two commonly consumed plant-based sources of omega-3s, they predominately contain ALA. However, the body is not overly efficient at converting ALA into DHA and EPA. There is no doubt that these can be healthy to include in the diet, but in order to meet DHA and EPA needs for optimal health, an algae-based supplement may be a more reliable and better utilized source.6) Iron is important for transporting oxygen to muscles
, so vegetarian and vegan athletes should make sure they’re getting enough iron each day as well. Add plant-based sources of iron like beans, legumes, certain dried fruit, tofu, and dark green vegetables to your meals. Combine these with a food rich in Vitamin C – like citrus or tomatoes – to help to increase the absorption of the plant-based iron. Share with us: Do you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet?
You may have seen some magazine articles or advertisements about using chocolate milk as a recovery drink. While many products are promoted without scientific backing, chocolate milk actually has a lot of evidence surrounding its use for recovery in endurance athletes! Studies have shown equal or better recovery and subsequent endurance performance when comparing chocolate milk to fluid replacement drinks and carbohydrate recovery beverages.
That’s because it contains the ideal 3:1 to 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio – meaning mostly carbohydrates with some protein. Many endurance athletes mistakenly reach for pre-made protein shakes after a workout, which are truly meant for strength training athletes. Endurance athletes need more carbohydrate to replace the glycogen in their muscles after a long workout.
Note that says after a long workout – longer than 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on intensity. Sometimes people get a bit crazy reaching for recovery food or drinks after a 30 minute workout, when there’s really no need.
Some athletes have looked at me like I’m crazy when I suggest chocolate milk, because it obviously has added sugar. But that’s what gives it the ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio. For example, Nesquik Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk contains 29 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein per cup, for a carb:protein ratio around 4:1 (3.6 to 1 to be exact). Unflavored skim milk, on the other hand, contains 13 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein, thus giving us a carb:protein ratio of less than 2:1. While the regular skim milk would certainly be a healthier choice for everyday nutrition, for recovery we need that additional boost of carbohydrate.
The amount of chocolate milk that you should drink for recovery is based on your weight, but to give you an example – a 150 pound athlete would aim to drink about 2.5 cups of chocolate milk within an hour of a workout. It might sound like a lot, but that’s really just a tall glass plus a few extra sips.
If you’re going to drink chocolate milk as a recovery beverage, aim for the low fat or nonfat versions, as in that immediate post-exercise period you are most concerned about getting enough carbohydrate and protein, and you don’t want to “crowd out” those with too much fat.
And of course, this is by no means the only option – there are plenty of other recovery methods out there! You should find what works for you. But I think this is a nice practical option for many athletes, as it’s inexpensive and easy to find at pretty much any grocery store or convenience store.
Last night, I had a nightmare that only an athlete would have. In it, I was going to the Newport Half Marathon (which I’m running next weekend) and I showed up only to realize it was changed to a triathlon. I didn’t have a wetsuit, and the water was freezing, so I had to borrow my husband’s wetsuit. It was too tight and the legs were a foot too long, but I thought I could make it work. Right before the race was going to start, I had to pee, but there was a long line for the porta potties. I waited and by the time I got back, my swim wave had already gone and I didn’t get to race.
I woke up sweating and anxious.
Seriously, only a dream an athlete would have.
It did inspire me though to do this blog post on proper preparation and showing up for your race calm and ready. This will get you to the finish line with a big smile on your face (see last year's Jingle Bell run example below!) Read on for my tips...
The week before:
1. Double check the race distance you signed up for. No joke, I had a friend that thought she had signed up for a 5K and arrived the morning of realizing it was a 10K. This might not be a big deal depending on your training, but for some athletes that could be quite a shock!
2. Yes, you should taper. If this is a longer distance A race for you, and not just a race that fit into your training schedule, you’ll want to taper for it. This helps ensures your muscles are well-saturated with glycogen and that they are well-rested and ready for the race.
3. Enjoy meals rich in carbohydrates the 2-3 days before your race. This (along with tapering) helps load up those muscles with glycogen – stored carbohydrate that your body will use during the race. You don’t need to overload on any one food in particular, but just ensure you have some healthy carbohydrates at each meal. Cereals, pastas, rice, breads, fruits, starchy vegetables – all of these can be good choices.
4. Get enough sleep (wait for it) 2 nights before your race. If it’s a big race or a new race distance for you, you’ll likely toss and turn the night before. It’s better to focus on getting a good night’s sleep two nights before the race. In essence, taking the pressure off the night before also helps to relax you, and will likely ensure that you sleep better that night too.
5. Make a list of all the things you need for your race, and pack your bag the night before. This is much more applicable for a triathlon compared to a road race, but even for a road race there are probably a few things you want with you (maybe a race belt, fuel, or water, for example). Packing the night before ensures that you don’t forget anything in your last minute nervousness the morning of.
The day of:
6. Eat a healthy breakfast. It helps to calm your nerves and ensures you have stable blood glucose as you start the race. Eat something that’s familiar, that you know sits well in your stomach, and that’s rich in carbohydrates. My favorites? A bagel, or cereal with milk and a banana.
7. Hydrate, but don’t overdo it. You want to arrive at the race hydrated, but you don’t have to do anything extra special. Drink some fluid with your breakfast, and maybe a few swigs of water or sports drink 5-10 minutes before the race. Avoid drinking a ton of water in the 2 hours before the race – you’ll end up at the start line needing to pee.
8. When you get to the race, get in line for the porta potties. Many people will end up with a nervous stomach on race mornings. You don’t want to wait until 10 minutes before the race and be stuck at the back of the line, hoping you make it in for sweet relief before the race starts. Instead, hop in line right when you get there, and if you tend to suffer from an upset stomach, get back in line again at some point before the race. (If you’re ever looking for me at a race, you can pretty much be guaranteed to find me just rotating through the porta potty line until a few minutes before the race start, haha!)
9. While on the course, pay attention to volunteers. Last November, I ran a 5K with my sister. We run fairly similar paces, but about 10 minutes after I finished was still no sign of her. The race had a point where it split for the 5K and 10K, and she was so into her music she didn’t notice the volunteers screaming and waving “5K right, 10K left!” She ended up inadvertently running a much longer race. You may have caught a similar story in the news recently about the woman who missed the turn for the half marathon and completed the full. Again, depending on your training, this might or might not be a big deal – but I’m sure it’s something most of us would rather avoid!
10. If you start freaking out on the course – “I’m going to slow!” or “I think I have to puke!” – try to relax a bit by focusing on your breathing or using a mantra. These can help to get yourself under control and can also help you push through a tough section of the race. I personally use “I am a warrior” and “control your breathing, you are fine.” It may sound silly, but it works for me and many other athletes I know.
11. Don’t try anything new on race day! That includes clothing choices (hello, possible chafing!), shoes (blisters, ugh), and fuel (no one likes to vomit during their race). Stick with what’s tried and true, and save the new for your next training session.
Put these strategies into place, and then just trust that you’ve done everything you need to show up at your race ready to kick some serious butt. You can do it!
Share with us: Do you find any of the strategies above helpful? Or do you have another strategy you’d like to share with us?
Caffeine has been well established over the last decade to be a potential performance enhancer. Though the jury is still out on the exact mechanism, it is believed that caffeine works in several ways related to endurance performance:
- Caffeine can bind to adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine can make you feel tired, sleepy, or drowsy when it binds to its receptors. However, when caffeine blocks some of those receptors by binding to them instead, you become more alert.
- There may be a mechanism related to improved skeletal muscle performance, either through enhancing strength and/or neuromuscular function.
- Studies have shown that caffeine intake resulted in improved fuel utilization, encouraging a greater reliance on fat oxidation compared to glycogen (carbohydrate) utilization.
- It may increase endorphin secretions, which have a mood-boosting effect and may reduce pain perception during long bouts of endurance exercise.
The amount of caffeine that can improve endurance performance is in the range of 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body weight, consumed about one hour before exercise. Doses above this range do not provide additional benefit (and may contribute to detrimental effects).
Let’s say you are an 80 kg athlete (175 pounds). Based on the 3 to 6 mg/kg range, the dose for potential performance enhancement would be approximately 240 to 480 mg of caffeine. This is equivalent to a few cups of coffee. It’s important to note that even though caffeine is a mild diuretic, the current research does not suggest that doses in the range above contribute to dehydration or negative effects on fluid balance during exercise.
Some studies suggest that anhydrous forms of caffeine (like a caffeine pill, gel, or chewable tablet) may provide greater benefit compared to the ingestion of caffeine through coffee, teas or other forms. However, the caffeine in these drink/food sources do still lead to positive outcomes, are often more easily accessible, and newer research is suggesting there is not as big of a difference in performance enhancement when compared to anhydrous forms as once thought.
Whether or not you decide to utilize caffeine before a race depends on your personal habits, tolerance/sensitivity (which can be influenced by genetics), and medical conditions. If you regularly consume large quantities of caffeine, you may not see an additional performance benefit when you drink your standard amount of coffee on race day. However, you will likely see a decline in performance if you randomly decide to give up that caffeine on race day. If you’re a caffeine junkie and want to have optimal use of it for a race, consider weaning off of it for week or so leading up to the event. This will decrease your body’s reliance on it. Note that during this process you may experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms which include headaches and irritability. Although this is not pleasant, the benefits can be worth it. After you have been “clean” off caffeine for at least three to four days, when you go to use it on race day your body will get those desired stimulant effects again just like you’re a caffeine newbie.
Along the same lines, if you never drink caffeinated beverages, you may see a performance boost with caffeine at the very low end of the 3 to 6 mg/kg range, since your body isn’t used to the effects of caffeine. However, you may also experience side effects such as feeling restless or jittery. Caffeine can also cause stomach upset in some individuals. If this happens to you, you’re probably better off just skipping it.
No matter what your situation, I can’t stress enough that it is wise to practice with caffeine in training situations if you are planning to use it on race day. The way your body reacts to a certain food or substance at home on the couch can be very different when you are using it before exercise. Experiment during training to find out if this is right for you!
Share with us - Do you have caffeine on race mornings?
If you’ve seen any news stories about runners drinking too much water and suffering severe side effects, then you’ve heard about hyponatremia. The term technically means that the sodium levels in blood have dropped too low. This can leading to a bunch of not-so-fun consequences like nausea, vomiting, and disorientation in mild forms. In severe cases, there can be life-threatening complications including a buildup of excessive fluid in the brain and lungs, respiratory arrest, coma, and death.
Fluid overload is the primary factor leading to hyponatremia, especially in events lasting less than 4 hours. During normal everyday hydration, your body can typically adjust for excessive hydration by increasing urine production. During exercise, however, this physiological mechanism is less effective and you aren’t able to get rid of excess fluid as quickly (ACSM, 2007).
Now, before you get scared of drinking water during a race – dehydration is much more common among athletes than hyponatremia. For example, among Boston Marathon runners from 2001-2008, those ending up in the medical tent were almost 6 times more likely to have dehydration compared to hyponatremia (Siegel et al, 2009). Moderate dehydration can impair aerobic performance by increasing body temperature and heart rate, as well as increasing perceived exertion – aka making the exercise feel more difficult.
However, the medical side effects associated with hyponatremia are much more concerning than mild dehydration. So to help you out, here are a few tips on preventing this condition…
1) Try a sweat test during one of your long training runs. This can help you assess if your current hydration strategy is putting you at risk for hyponatremia (or for dehydration). To conduct a sweat test, weigh yourself before and after working out, account for any fluid you did drink, and see what the overall weight difference is. If you’ve lost between 0-2% of your original body weight, you’re in the sweet spot and likely hydrating correctly. If you’ve gained weight, you may be drinking too much.
2) Listen to your body. A sweat test provides you with a great plan going into training/races in terms of how much fluid to carry and a general idea of how much to drink – but above all, follow your body’s signals for thirst/overdrinking. If you’re feeling thirsty or have dry mouth, drink something. If you’re feeling nauseous or have a sloshing in the stomach, cut back a bit.
3) Remember electrolytes. In events over 4 hours, fluid overload is still a primary cause but a lack of sodium intake can also play a role (Montain et al, 2006). This is especially true on hot & humid days. Be sure that your beverage of choice contains adequate sodium. If it doesn’t, you can easily adjust by adding a pinch of salt or an electrolyte fizzy tab.
4) Skip the NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – or NSAIDs – like Aleve, Ibuprofin, or Motrin have been associated with an increased risk of hyponatremia during exercise (Wharam et al, 2006). Some athletes unknowingly pop these pills in advance of a long race because they think it will ward off pain/cramps, but this is a dangerous strategy. NSAIDs affect renal function and water/sodium balance, which can play a role in hyponatremia development.
5) When in doubt, get help. If you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, and disorientation on the course during a race, you may want to ask for a medic in case of hyponatremia. Sometimes nausea and vomiting can occur for other reasons – like trying a new food or drink on the course – but if you feel like something just isn’t right with your body, ask for help.
If you’ve never dealt with any kind of stomach upset, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea during a long run or ride – consider yourself lucky. It’s definitely not a pleasant experience, but unfortunately it can happen to many of us at one point or another in training. It’s particularly common among runners, due to the jostling motion. If you current struggle with this, here are a few common problem areas that can lead to stomach upset…
1) Are you dehydrated?
If you don’t drink fluid regularly despite feeling thirsty, you may experience dehydration – especially during a long run on a hot day. This increases the likelihood of stomach upset, which could happen either during or after the run. Many athletes under hydrate and under fuel at the beginning of a long run or ride, and then try to adjust later or afterward – causing cramps or diarrhea. Pay attention to your thirst and hydrate regularly. 2) Are you popping sugar free gum?
Sugar-free gum contains sugar alcohols, which can pull water into the intestinal tract. This, combined with the fact that exercise speeds up movement through the digestive system, can lead to diarrhea. I’d recommend skipping the gum all together, but if you must chew something, I’d go with a regular sugar based gum. 3) Does your sports drink or fuel choice contain protein?
While protein is certainly needed in everyday nutrition and during recovery, it is not necessary in fuel choices for endurance athletes doing moderate distance/time events. Protein can cause stomach cramping and upset since it slows digestion and causes you to feel fuller longer. Ultra endurance athletes may find some choices that contain a little protein useful, as it can help with the hunger that’s experienced during these long events. It may also help prevent muscular breakdown in these events, though recovery protein likely targets this just fine. 4) Is it the first time you’re adding fuel to your long runs/rides?
If you’re a new athlete and are just delving into longer session training, you may find that you experience stomach upset when you start fueling. This is common. Just like you have to train your muscles to become strong and power you through those workouts, you also have to train your gut to process fuel while you’re exercising. For exercise over 75 minutes, I recommend 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. If you’re new to fueling, start at the lower end of this range and work your way toward what’s comfortable and what provides energy to support your training. 5) Did you try a new food or product?
Hopefully it’s not race day, because you know I’d never recommend something new on race day. If you’re trying out new foods or drinks during your training – which is recommended to find what works for you! – keep a log (we have one available on our website – check out the box on the top right to grab your copy) noting your fuel choice, amount, and any GI symptoms. Regularly reviewing your log may indicate that certain foods or beverages tend to settle more poorly in your stomach compared to others. For example, gels do not sit well with me – but sports drinks and dried fruit are generally fine. Experiment to find what works for you, and use that on race day. 6) Did you go high fiber for your pre-exercise meal?
While fiber is super important to help keep you full and keep your digestive system in tip top shape on an everyday basis, it’s not ideal in high amounts in a pre-exercise meal. It increases movement through the digestive system and bulks up stool, making it more likely that you’ll risk diarrhea while exercising. Different people can tolerate different amounts of fiber, so you’ll need to figure out what works for you. For example, if you are experiencing GI upset and typically eat a high fiber cereal before your workout, try switching to a lower fiber option like Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes. 7) If all else fails, or if it feels serious, go to the doctor.
If you’ve already ruled out the causes above, you may want to visit a doctor to rule out something more serious. You could struggle with irritable bowel syndrome, a food sensitivity, or (in rare cases) something more serious. One of my amazing clients, Jess, was training for the PMC this year. We were going through her fueling plan and troubleshooting small items, yet she was still experiencing some GI upset after occasional workouts. She went to the doctor and found out she had a twisted small intestine (Jess gave me full permission to share this with you guys - read the full details on her blog, Little Miss Runshine
). Moral of the story – if it doesn't feel right, and you feel like you’re doing everything right on an exercise/nutrition standpoint – visit the doctor.
Ah, race days – what you’ve been working for all training season! You know you want to have a good breakfast to support your performance, but what exactly does that mean? Find out below with 4 tips to help you plan your best race day breakfast…
1. Don’t try anything new on race day.
This is the cardinal rule of racing (for all aspects, not just your fuel), and for good reason. Let’s say you always eat cereal before long runs and then decide to switch it up with something else on race day. That new food may not settle well in your stomach, might result in some gastrointestinal issues, might be lower in carbohydrate content and not fuel you as well…this list goes on. Practice with several options during training to find out what works best for you, and use that on race day. 2. Eat 1-4 hours before your event.
The best time will vary based on your individual preferences. Some people prefer eating a larger meal several hours out and having more time to digest. Others prefer a smaller but still adequate meal about an hour before. And others will eat several hours before, and then top off their energy stores with something small and quick a little while before the race starts (maybe a gel or half a peanut butter and honey sandwich). Again, practice during training to figure out your optimal strategy. 3. Choose options rich in carbohydrate with a little protein.
You’ll want to minimize the fats in your meal (they take longer to digest) – though the further out that you eat your breakfast, the more flexibility you have with this. A few suggested options that work well for my clients:
- Cereal with milk and a sliced banana
- Oatmeal with fruit and a little honey
- Frozen waffles topped with fruit, honey, and almonds. (I like to use frozen fruit, and microwave it before putting it on the waffle – it’ll release some of the juices when microwaving, making it like syrup for your waffle.)
- Bagel with a little peanut butter
- Peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich
- Quinoa or rice with 2 poached eggs
The specific portions of these foods that you should eat depends on your body weight and how far in advance you’re eating, with larger portions of the carb-rich items needed if you’re eating 3-4 hours out and smaller portions if you’re eating 1 hour out. 4. Choose grains carefully.
In everyday eating, I’ll always recommend whole grains – whole wheat bread, whole grain waffles, etc. Before a long
training session or race, though, you may find that a refined grain like a plain white bagel sits better in your stomach. Whole grains have a much higher fiber content. That, combined with the fact that physical activity aids in moving along digestion, might have you rushing for a porta potty mid-race. By practicing with different options during training, you’ll know what works best for you. Some people with “regular” digestive systems prefer whole grains because they know they’ll get some “sweet relief” at a predictable time in advance of the race. Others with a less predictable system may not want to take the risk of having a fiber-full stomach during the race.
There you go! I personally eat about 1.5 to 2 hours before a long run or race, and my standard choices are a bagel and a glass orange juice, or a few cups of cereal with milk. I have a sensitive stomach, and I know these two almost always sit well for me. Plus they put me at the starting line feeling well-fueled and ready to go. Share with us: What’s your favorite race-day breakfast?
(PS - Need help with your sports nutrition plan? Check out the sports nutrition programs
that we offer!)
If you’ve been to any major fitness or race expos in the last year, you may have noticed a new trend – shots of beet juice! That’s right, these little concentrated beet shots are proposed to improve endurance performance. But is there anything to back this claim? Actually, yes there is some research on this...
First – where did this theory even come from?
Well, beets and beet juice were hypothesized to be performance enhancers due to due to their high concentration of dietary nitrates. The theory is that nitrates in beetroot juice may act as a vasodilator, helping improve blood and oxygen flow to muscles.
Interestingly, our traditional view of dietary nitrates is pretty poor – they’re found in high levels in processed meats like bacon and sausage, and have been linked to serious health problems like increased cancer risk.
However, there is an interesting paradox that dietary nitrates found in vegetables seem to have beneficial, rather than harmful effects. It is unclear exactly why nitrates cause harmful effects from certain sources and beneficial from others, but it is possible that nitrates act in combination with other components inside vegetables which protect us from any negative effects and create a positive impact.
So what about endurance performance?
There have been several studies done over the last few years looking into the effects of beet juice on endurance performance. In a quick literature review, I found 8 studies between 2010 and early 2013. And 5 out of those 8 studies showed a beneficial impact of consuming beet juice on performance, in the area of around 2-4% improvement in time trial performance in both cycling and running!
Note thought that these studies have been on mostly well trained athletes. In untrained athletes, the difference that beet juice makes would likely be negligible – you’d be better off simply training more consistently! In addition, the potential benefit may only extend to your specific training discipline. For example, when researchers looked at the impact of beetroot juice on cross country skiers in a 5k trial, there was no effect – perhaps because running wasn’t their preferred modality (Peacock et al, 2012).
Based on these studies, it seems plausible that beetroot juice (or even the beets themselves, though I don’t picture that being a very pleasant pre-workout snack) may provide a slight edge for highly competitive athletes. And considering there’s no major downside (aside from some potentially purple poop or temporary tooth discoloration) – it might be worth it to give it a try.
Before I go further – please, please – if you decide to use beet juice, practice with this during a long run or ride in training before using it in a race. Race day is not the time to introduce something brand new!
How much should I eat or drink?
The optimal dose based on this research is a half liter of beetroot juice or 3 to 4 cooked beets, equating to 300-500 mg of dietary nitrates, about 3 hours prior to a long training session/race (blood levels peak in 2-3 hours and stay elevated for 6-9 hours). Going back to those products at the expos - there are some newer beet juice “shots” available which boast a more concentrated source of nitrates, making it easier to get the amount for potential benefit without having to drink a half liter or eat such a large amount of fresh cooked beets.
Also, please stick with dietary sources of nitrates in beet juice rather than searching for a pill/supplement. Nitrate salts and pills can cause potential side effects which may be dangerous when consumed in high amounts, causing problems like a severe drop in blood pressure or passing out. And, perhaps most importantly, people can mistakenly purchase nitrite salts (emphasis on the i), rather than nitrate salts, which can cause extremely dangerous side effects in even small amounts. While nitrate is nontoxic up to rather high levels, nitrite can cause harmful effects at even low levels. Bottom line – stick with foods!
One more word of warning that may apply to a few of you: a very high intake of dietary nitrates may cause a drop in blood pressure. If you struggle with low blood pressure or are on a blood pressure medication, you should approach your doctor before adding beetroot juice to your regimen. Also, be aware that beet juice or beets can cause temporary tooth discoloration and purplish poop! (The things we do as athletes…)
Share with us: Have you ever tried beet juice as a performance enhancer? What were your experiences?